How Hormone Treatments Affect Male Breast Cancer


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Hormone treatments can treat breast cancer in both men and women. Copyright Image by Decoded Science, all rights reserved.

When you think of breast cancer, you may immediately think of women. While it is vastly more common in women, men can also get breast cancer.

How Can Men Get Breast Cancer?

Men can also get breast cancer because men and women both have estrogen and progesterone – just in different amounts. Estrogen is the “female hormone” and progesterone is the “male hormone.”

Each of these hormones are found in both males and females – just in smaller or greater amounts depending on whether you’re male or female. Estrogen can promote breast cancer growth, which is why breast cancer is more common in women than in men.

There are also multiple risk factors that can contribute to you getting breast cancer such as: Smoking, alcohol use, being overweight, genetics (having BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes), having a family history of breast cancer, and your race and ethnicity (non-Hispanic Whites and African Americans have the highest rates of breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society).

Breast Cancer in Men

Men have breast tissue, just the same as women. However, women have more estrogen (the female hormone) that causes their breast tissue to become larger and their ducts to produce milk. While men do have breast tissue, it’s just not as much and they have very few ducts. Men’s ducts, just like women, can undergo cancerous changes. However, the risk of breast cancer in men is lower because their breast duct cells are less developed and they have less of the female hormone (estrogen) that affects the growth of the breast. When men do get breast cancer, hormones can offer a potential treatment.

Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

Most of the treatment recommendations for men’s breast cancer come from treatments that have been successful for women who have had breast cancer. One form of treatment, hormone therapy, has had great results. According to the American Cancer Society, about nine of ten breast cancers in men are hormone receptor-positive, which makes them more likely to respond to hormone therapy.

Tamoxifen is an anti-estrogen drug that doctors use to treat breast cancer in men and women. This drug, taken in pill form once a day, works by temporarily blocking the estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells. According to the American Cancer Society, after surgeons are able to remove the cancer, taking tamoxifen every day for five years can reduce the chances of breast cancer from coming back by about half.  If Tamoxifen doesn’t work or stops working, there are other hormone therapy drugs that doctors can use to affect the cancer’s growth.

As with all medications, there are side effects when using hormone therapy for breast cancer. The most common side effects are fatigue, hot flashes, erectile dysfunction, mood swings, and weight gain. Talk with your doctor about side effects, as there are ways to treat those as well.

This image shows breast cancer spreading from the ducts and into the tissue in the breast. Image by the National Cancer Institute.

Hormone therapy isn’t your only option when it comes to breast cancer – in men or women. Other options include: chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, targeted therapy, and bone-directed therapy.

Depending on the type of breast cancer you have, your doctor, your personal health, and your insurance coverage will determine which treatment option you end up with.

Male Breast Cancer: Prognosis

The prognosis with breast cancer in men will in part determine when the cancer was detected; if the cancer was detected in the early stages, the chances of survival are greater than when cancer is detected in the later stages. According to John Hopkins, men have a 25 percent higher mortality rate than women, which is thought to be due to finding cancer in the later stages. While there are relatively a small number of men with breast cancer in clinical trials, scientists continue to learn about the causes and treatment options for men with breast cancer.

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